While an Islamic Shiite coalition won a slim majority in the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq, the results indicate that no single group can control the country’s political process.
One prominent Islamic “moderate,” Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, appears likely to become prime minister in the new transitional government. The head of one of the two large Kurdish parties, Jalal Talabani, may be named president. Several Sunni groups who boycotted the vote now say they will participate in the new government in some form, and in drafting a new constitution.
Key struggles in the coming period will be over ending the U.S. occupation, the role of Islam in the nation’s governance, control of the oil and other public sector industries, and establishing a democratic process for new elections to be held at the end of this year.
Jaafari has said he opposes a specific timetable for a U.S. military pullout. Current finance minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, another Islamic contender for a top position, recently called for opening up the oil industry to private investment.
Iraqi Communist Party spokesperson Salam Ali says these and other Islamic moderates “will not in any substantial way challenge U.S. influence unless a political mass movement challenges the occupation and calls for withdrawal.”
Meanwhile, President Bush asked the U.S. Congress for an additional $82 billion primarily for the Iraq occupation. That is on top of some $150 billion already spent on the war. And this will not be the end of it.
Brookings Institution analyst Michael E. O’Hanlon predicted “a likelihood of hitting $300 billion, a near-certainty it will reach $250 [billion] and a distinct possibility we’ll reach $400 [billion].”
Many Americans are saying, “Enough is enough.” Peace Action is urging voters to tell their congressional representatives, “Not one more dime” for war in Iraq. “Instead, the U.S. must end the occupation, bring our troops home, and support Iraqi sovereignty.”
The group said it is time to “stop perpetuating the cycle of violence in Iraq, stop sending so many soldiers and civilians to their graves, and stop diverting precious resources that could be used to rebuild Iraq and fund critical domestic needs.”
In the Jan. 30 elections, the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition of Shiite groups, drew about 48 percent of the vote. An alliance of Kurdish parties got 26 percent, and current interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi’s group drew 14 percent. Of the remaining 100 slates, only nine others recorded enough votes to gain seats in the national assembly.
The People’s Unity slate, initiated by the Iraqi Communist Party, won about 70,000 votes, just under 1 percent, which will likely give it two seats. That was smaller than what both the ICP and other Iraqi analysts had expected. The Kurdistan Communist Party was part of the Kurdish slate and will likely also have two seats.
Ali called the ICP national results “disappointing,” but said they “do not reflect the weight and influence of our party in the political life” of Iraq. He noted that in elections for provincial councils, which also took place Jan. 30, the ICP drew around 140,000 votes — double what it received for the national assembly — in only 12 provinces, not including Kurdistan where the party has a strong base.
Ali said many blatant violations of election regulations, especially by the Islamic alliance and Allawi’s group, were specifically aimed at suppressing votes for the ICP and other groups.
A nongovernmental organization, the Tammuz Organization for Social Development, which had election monitors throughout Iraq, reported “many violations” by “representatives and supporters of certain lists. The use of money bribes was quite evident. Even some security officers … interfered in favor of a particular list.”
Nevertheless, the monitoring group noted the large turnout “among broad sections of the people,” and, in particular, the “large-scale participation of women.” Despite serious shortcomings, the group said the Jan. 30 vote “will enter the annals of history as a day when the Iraqi people defied the forces of terror and crime” to have a say in their country’s future.
The ICP’s Ali said the election results reflect “the reality of Iraqi society at the present moment” — the predominance of Islamic and ethnic/nationalist sentiments. Sectarian divisions, he said, “do not augur well for the future of a democratic Iraq.”
Such divisions can play into the hands of the U.S. occupation, he said. “It enables the Americans to manipulate the various groups, to play on fears, to be seen as the guarantor of stability.”
Many believe the U.S. helped fund Allawi’s campaign. Now, New York Times reporter Judith Miller, well-connected to the Bush administration, let slip on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball,” Jan. 30, that the administration has been “offering” cabinet posts to figures like Ahmad Chalabi.